“These brand audits offer undeniable proof of the role that corporations play in perpetuating the global plastic pollution crisis,” says Global Coordinator of Break Free From Plastic, Von Hernandez. “By continuing to churn out problematic and unrecyclable throwaway plastic packaging for their products, these companies are guilty of trashing the planet on a massive scale. It’s time they own up and stop shifting the blame to citizens for their wasteful and polluting products.”
The audits, led by Break Free From Plastic member organizations, found that Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Nestlé, Danone, Mondelez International, Procter & Gamble, Unilever, Perfetti van Melle, Mars Incorporated, and Colgate-Palmolive were the most frequent multinational brands collected in cleanups, in that order. This ranking of multinational companies included only brands that were found in at least ten of the 42 participating countries. Overall, polystyrene, which is not recyclable in most locations, was the most common type of plastic found, followed closely by PET, a material used in bottles, containers and other packaging.
The top polluters in Asia, according to the analysis, were Coca-Cola, Perfetti van Melle, and Mondelez International brands. These brands accounted for 30 percent of all branded plastic pollution counted by volunteers across Asia. This year’s brand audits throughout Asia build upon a week-long cleanup and audit at the Philippines’ Freedom Island in 2017, which found Nestlé and Unilever to be the top polluters.
“We pay the price for multinational companies’ reliance on cheap throwaway plastic,” says Greenpeace Southeast Asia – Philippines Campaigner Abigail Aguilar. “We are the ones forced to clean up their plastic pollution in our streets and waterways. In the Philippines, we can clean entire beaches and the next day they are just as polluted with plastics. Through brand audits, we can name some of the worst polluters and demand that they stop producing plastic to begin with.”
In North and South America, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and Nestlé brands were the top polluters identified, accounting for 64 and 70 percent of all the branded plastic pollution, respectively.
“In Latin America, brand audits put responsibility on the companies that produce useless plastics and the governments that allow corporations to place the burden, from extraction to disposal, in the most vulnerable and poor communities,” says GAIA Coordinator for Latin America Magdalena Donoso. “BFFP members in Latin America are exposing this crisis and promoting zero waste strategies in connection with our communities.”
In Europe, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and Nestlé brands were again the top identified polluters, accounting for 45 percent of the plastic pollution found in the audits there. In Australia, 7-Eleven, Coca-Cola, and McDonald’s brands were the top polluters identified, accounting for 82 percent of the plastic pollution found. And finally, in Africa, ASAS Group, Coca-Cola, and Procter & Gamble brands were the top brands collected, accounting for 74 percent of the plastic pollution there.
“These brand audits are putting responsibility back where it belongs, with the corporations producing endless amounts of plastics that end up in the Indian Ocean,” explains Griffins Ochieng, Programmes Coordinator for the Centre for Environment Justice and Development in Kenya. “We held cleanups and brand audits in two locations in Kenya to identify the worst corporate polluters in the region and hold them accountable. It is more urgent than ever, for the sake of communities that rely on the ocean for their livelihoods, health and well-being, to break free from plastic.”
Break Free From Plastic is calling on corporations to reduce their use of single-use plastic, redesign delivery systems to minimize or eliminate packaging, and take responsibility for the plastic pollution they are pumping into already strained waste management systems and the environment. While the brand audits do not provide a complete picture of companies’ plastic pollution footprints, they are the best indication to date of the worst plastic polluters globally.
PackagingInsights speaks to Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and Nestlé
“Coca-Cola shares Greenpeace’s goal of eliminating waste from the ocean and appreciate its efforts to raise public awareness about this important challenge,” says Max Davis, Global Public Affairs Manager at Coca-Cola. “However, Greenpeace has chosen to solely focus on one approach to addressing plastic waste. We believe that all packaging materials have benefits, and, if managed properly, can be turned into valuable resources for reuse. To do that, we need better collection, more use of recycled content, and complete recyclability.”
“We’re prepared to do our part. We’ve set ambitious goals for our business, starting with helping to collect and recycle a bottle or can for every one we sell – regardless of where it comes from – by 2030. This is part of our World Without Waste vision, which also calls for us to use an average of 50 percent recycled content in our bottles and cans by 2030. While the majority of our packaging is recyclable today (85 percent), we are working to get to 100 percent and have set that target for 2025.”
“We can’t do this alone, and it will take some time to accomplish. But we recognize the need for action and the importance of creating a World Without Waste,” he concludes.
PepsiCo offered a similar response, claiming that it shares Greenpeace’s concerns while pointing to its long-term sustainability goals.
“We are committed to achieving 100 percent recyclable, compostable or biodegradable packaging by 2025,” says Gian-Carlo Peressutti, Vice President Global Communications at PepsiCo. “Protecting our planet is hugely important to us and the issue of plastics and waste requires urgent attention. PepsiCo has a number of initiatives in place to increase recycling rates and reduce the amount of packaging we use all while working with experts and investing in this space to bring the latest sustainable packaging advances to market. We don’t have all the answers yet, and we will continue to collaborate with a number of leaders in this area to learn and share the latest science and practical solutions.”
Nestlé was keen to stress to PackagingInsights that global plastic pollution is “a challenge we face as a society [which] requires the development of proper infrastructure to manage waste effectively around the world, both in the formal and informal sectors.”
“It is imperative that all actors along the waste value chain including brands, packaging producers, waste management companies, governments, and civil society, work together to bring forward the change we need to see,” says Rumjhum Gupta, Corporate Spokesperson for Nestlé.
“As the world’s largest food & beverage company, we recognize the issue and we are working hard to eliminate non-recyclable plastics,” he says. “We are also working with value chain partners and industry associations to explore different packaging solutions to reduce plastic usage; facilitate recycling, and develop new approaches to eliminating plastic waste.”
Gupta applauds Greenpeace’s report for raising public awareness on the issue while calling on collaboration between “all actors along the value chain, including governments and local authorities, waste management companies, civil society and consumers,” to improve waste management systems.
“This includes formal targets, deposit return schemes (DRS), extended producer responsibility (EPR) approaches as well as support for professionalizing informal collection systems. Countries, through municipal and informal processes, differ in their ability to collect, sort, re-use, recycle and recover packaging based on local needs and processes. Due to the varying nature of infrastructure and legislation around the world, including recycling, Nestlé is taking a pragmatic approach,” Gupta concludes.
Greenpeace’s report rightly raises awareness around the problem of plastic pollution, but is targeting the big FMCG companies an effective strategy? Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and Nestlé and the others must, of course, take responsibility for the environmental impact of their packaging; whether the now common 2025/2030 sustainability programs are sufficiently effective or immediate enough is a matter of debate. However, FMCG sustainability programs can only achieve so much without significantly improved worldwide government waste management systems, a more educated global consumer, and the availability of more eco-conscious packaging solutions.
By Joshua Poole
This feature is provided by FoodIngredientsFirst's sister website, PackagingInsights.
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